An Interview With Thomas Bubendorfer
What drives you to keep undertaking these (mad!) challenges?
They are not mad at all! They are VERY well prepared, very well thought of, and they are also VERY controlled. Climbing is what I do and who I am. I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world (or any other reason)! What drives me to keep going is that I want to find out how good I can be. The human being is never “good enough”, meaning, there is always potential left to be explored – in all of us!
How did you get into corporate speaking?
When I was 21, I had introduced a new, very “lean” and audacious style to climbing: the solo climbing without ropes of the highest and hardest mountain faces. International fame followed, and IBM took notice of me. They invited me to speak at a convention in Monaco. Their challenge to me were the questions, 1. What goes on in the head of a guy who breaks into new grounds in his area of expertise, and 2. What can a corporate audience learn from his experiences? This triggered off a thought process that lasts to this day.
Why do you enjoy being a speaker?
I love exactly the above-mentioned challenge and the variety of themes that come with these questions. I also love the fact that every audience is different, every motto of each conference is usually different from any other, and I am forced to “reinvent” the wheel each time I speak. I never repeat a speech.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
After my first big successes in climbing, writing and as a professional sportsman, I took a crippling 20-meter (70 feet) fall during a commercial photo session. I moved on crutches for almost a year, doctors declared me 35% handicapped and that I would never climb a mountain again. Still, I achieved my hardest climbs after the accident. I never learned as much as in the two years of catharsis that followed the accident.
Typically, how much preparation goes into getting ready for an expedition?
About six to eight months roughly, but I keep in shape all year round anyway. In an average year, I climb about 130 days, in rock, snow or ice, plus training in gyms of course.
What can a corporate audience learn from your experiences?
Ever since I started climbing some 35 years ago, my whole thinking revolves about how I can get better at everything I do: climbing, writing, keynote speaking, consulting. How I can better my performance. I found that the key to progress is permanent change, and that means you have to take calculated, measured risks.
As a climber in vertical rock - or ice faces, you learn that you must move on. Gravity is relentless, the clock is always ticking, no matter how fit you are. Then there is the issue of unpredictability: volatile weather, and fatigue, of course. Every step precedes a decision, every decision is a little risk. You must challenge the status quo. You cannot remain or stand still. You are responsible! There are no excuses! Your life depends on the quality of the next step.
You also learn, even as a solo climber, that you don’t get to the top alone. You are nothing without a good team. The goal must be set, you must know where you are heading, but then it is all about focusing on the presence. When you suffer a setback, when you are stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, there is always something that you can do! So you see, there are plenty of parallels between the corporate world and the world of a serious climber. A lot is at stake, always. Maybe for a climber that is easier to remember that, for if he fails, it really hurts… The major difference between a climbing athlete and the corporate athlete, as I call my audiences, is, that they don’t get enough rest. In my experience, they are, unfortunately, usually over-worked.
What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?
My key thoughts are: 1. The speech is about THEM (the audience!), not about me. 2. Nothing is in my speech that does not relate to the audience. Thirdly, I try to give them simple examples how they might change something in their every-day lives.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
Most importantly, give me bad weather please, so I don’t feel I am missing out something in the rocks. Then, let me be with my wife and two kids, and then it’s a long sleep-in, and give me a good meal and good red wine (preferably Argentine or Chilean Malbec), a movie maybe. Stuff like that…
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